USDA Helped 7 Million Rural Residents with $1.5 Billion in 2017

From the January 29, 2018 “Morning Ag Clips”

The Morning Ag Clips article presents a summary of the USDA Rural Development report to President Trump from Secretary Perdue for 2017. The USDA carries the report on its website, but news articles are, at best, hard to find on the site. We think you may want to know what Rural Development has done this past year for your constituents.

USDA Rural Development provided loans and grants to rural areas of the country to aid those areas with money to help schools, libraries, fire and police facilities, and other public/community needs. In 2017 the USDA provided loans and grants, mostly low interest loans, amounting to $1.5 billion to help a total of seven million people with approximately 400 projects.

Our CSG Eastern Region had nine of its eleven states participate. Only Massachusetts and New Hampshire did not have a project included this year. One example that affected one of our states is a $775,000 loan for two counties in north central Pennsylvania to purchase a building to house Head Start in Williamsport.

The 43 page report states “The USDA provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas.” Through assistance with business opportunities, housing, infrastructure and community services that help people, such as schools, health care facilities, and high speed internet availability.

The Morning Ag Clips article can be found here, and the full Report from USDA Rural Development to the President can be found here.

USDA Services During Shutdown

The following press release was issued by the USDA on January 21, 2018 regarding the government shutdown.

 

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue outlined U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) services available during a government shutdown.

“USDA is committed to safeguarding life and property through the critical services we provide – and should the government shut down, we will continue to do just that,” said Secretary Perdue. “I am proud of each USDA employee for everything they do to benefit the farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers who depend on our services. It is their mission each day to fulfill our USDA motto, ‘Do right and feed everyone.’”

While you may click HERE to view USDA’s lapse in funding plans, background information on USDA services available in the event of a government shutdown are below:

Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 368 KB) – FSIS will continue work to:

  •  Ensure meat, poultry, and egg products are safe and prevent the movement or sale in commerce of any meat or poultry products which are adulterated;
  •  Inspect before and after slaughter those birds and animals intended for use as food for humans and inspect the further processing of meat and poultry products;
  •  Apply foreign governments’ inspection requirements and procedures to verify that products exported from the United States are safe;
  •  Conduct emergency operations in connection with the voluntary recall of meat or poultry products determined to be adulterated or misbranded;
  •  Conduct epidemiological investigations based on reports of food-borne health hazards and disease outbreaks;
  •  Monitor allied industries to prevent uninspected, misbranded, or adulterated meat, poultry and egg products from illegally entering channels of commerce;
  •  Provide pathological, microbiological, chemical, and other scientific examination of meat, poultry and egg products for disease, infection, contamination, or other types of adulteration;
  •  Conduct a microbiological monitoring and surveillance program;

Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 128 KB) – APHIS will ensure:

  • Imported products do not bring pests and diseases into the U.S.;
  • In the case of a pest or disease outbreak, the appropriate emergency personnel would come back to work immediately;
  • Overseas staff that provide for national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property, are excepted;
  • Personnel from the APHIS Emergency Management, Safety and Security Division will respond as necessary to provide technical assistance and conduct investigations for excepted and exempt activities;
  • Animal Care will have staff on call to address issues related to licensed or registered facilities (such as immediate needs related to the care or treatment of animals; capture or containment of dangerous animals, or the required confiscation of animals);
  • Biotechnology Regulatory Services will monitor the compliance call line for incidents related to genetically engineered organisms. If an incident needs follow up, the correct regulatory and investigative personnel will be called in to work;
  • Security staff will be available on a case-by-case basis to respond to security incidents and to coordinate facility access;
  • Foreign animal disease (FAD) diagnosticians and incident command system (ICS) teams will be available on a case-by-case basis to respond to FAD investigations and FAD emergencies;
  • Laboratory personnel will be available to run tests on samples associated with foreign animal disease investigations, and, at the beginning of the period, to close out pending lab tests;
  • Staffing at National Wildlife Research Center and its associated field stations to care for the animals being studied.

Food and Nutrition Service (FNS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 510 KB) – FNS will ensure:

  • Ongoing activities include essential Federal functions to maintain the core programs of the nutrition safety net, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Child Nutrition Programs, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC);
    • All of these programs will continue to serve eligible people through USDA’s partners (State agencies and other grantees) utilizing legally available Federal resources previously provided to them or their own resources.  All have funding available to operate through the month of February, and many have funds to continue operations through March, without additional appropriation.
  • Disaster feeding operations under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 and the Stafford Act would remain available based on the exception to fund functions critical to health and safety;
  • The smaller discretionary programs should utilize funds already allocated and made available for operation of programs. Food already purchased for delivery to the Food Distribution programs; The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), USDA foods for Child Nutrition Programs, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), will continue to be delivered to program operators.

Rural Development (RD):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 813 KB) – RD will:

  • Continue its fiduciary responsibilities in accounting for and processing customers’ funds, such as loan escrow accounts, in an accurate and timely manner;
  • Ensure those individuals who hold single family housing loans from RD are able to make their monthly payments and will be held accountable to monthly mortgage payment deadlines;
  • Ensure organizations holding USDA Rural Development loans will still be able to make their payments and will be held accountable for making on-time loan payments;
  • Ensure Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands offices will continue to be open during a federal funding lapse to assist in continued disaster recovery efforts;
    • Staff at these offices will be able to conduct inspections of existing projects, and they will also be available to provide technical assistance to USDA customers.

Risk Management Agency (RMA):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 388 KB) – RMA will ensure:

  • Crop insurance companies will continue to deliver and service the federal crop insurance program during a government shutdown;
  • Approved Insurance Providers (AIPS) will stay open and agents and loss adjustors will be fully available;
  • Indemnity payments will continue to be made.

U.S. Forest Service (USFS): 

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 179 KB) – the USFS will continue work in:

  • Emergency and Defense Preparedness;
  • Fire Suppression including fire fighters and all necessary equipment costs to protect life and property, Law Enforcement personnel and all necessary equipment costs to protect life and property, and emergency and natural disasters response or preparation (e.g., floods and avalanche control);
  • Protection of Federal lands, buildings, waterways, equipment and other property and investments owned by the United States when the suspension of such activities would cause an imminent threat to human life and property. This includes nurseries, insectaries, tree seed labs, and the minimum level of staffing to administer permits and contracts needed for protection of National Forest System lands;
  • All contracts in support of cyber security, land-based radio communications, and infrastructure operations to support key positions and essential personnel;
  • Protection of Research studies where lack of continuation measurements or maintenance would destroy or endanger validity of research findings;
  • Job Corps operations unless directed otherwise by Department of Labor.

Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 159 KB) – the following services will remain available through AMS:

  •  Commodity Procurement;
  •  Grading and Inspection;
  •  Cotton Classing;
  •  Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Program (PACA);
  •  Research and Promotion Board Oversight;
  •  FGIS: Inspection and Weighing Services (user fee funded activities);
  •  Farm-Bill Funded Activities.

Economic Research Service (ERS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 389 KB) – ERS will:

  • Ensure coordination of data calls;
  • Maintain agency Local Area Network (LAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) systems;
  • Ensure all systems remain online and functional;
  • Require COOP team staff for both readiness activities such as maintaining operable communications as well as implementation or activation activities, and to ensure adequate communication with the USDA OpsCenter.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 705 KB) – NRCS will continue their work in:

  •  Puerto Rico and Virgin Island Activities;
  •  Emergency Watershed Protection;
  •  Dam monitoring.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 389 KB) – ARS will:

  • Continue performing duties related to preserving and protecting ARS facilities, animals and critical research infrastructure.

Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 433 KB) – FAS will:

  • Support NAFTA negotiations;
  • Engage on issues pending in the World Trade Organization;
  • Operate the Commodity Credit Corporation-funded Export Credit Guarantee Program (GSM-102);
  • Maintain international offices at U.S. embassies around the world.

Farm Service Agency (FSA):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 290 KB) – FSA will ensure:

  • All FSA local service centers and farm loan programs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands remain active.

Office of the Chief Economist (OCE):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 101 KB) – OCE will continue Supporting:

  • The ongoing NAFTA negotiations;
  • The China negotiations in Geneva;
  • The OECD.

–USDA

Important Decisions in Organic Certification

Two recent developments coming out of the USDA in Washington have angered some in the Organics community, while making some poultry producers and soil-less growers happy.

Hydroponics and Aquaponics to Be Considered Organic

 As reported in the Seattle Times last week, the National Organics Board The National Organic Standards Board, by a one vote margin, voted to keep aeroponic farming (which grows plants – typically herbs and leafy greens -suspended in the air with their roots exposed) out of the systems included in the organics standard. However, it voted to allow hydroponics (which grow plants in water-based nutrient solutions), and aquaponics (which combine hydroponic systems with farmed fish operations) to be included.

This decision has rocked some organic farmers and consumers, who believe that the basis of organic farming is soil health.  Without the soil, they claim it is not organic.  However, the USDA defines organic agriculture as “a production system that is managed to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”  Nowhere in this definition is there mention of soil being a requirement.

The Seattle Times noted that, during NOSB testimony on Tuesday, several organic farmers protested the certification of hydroponic farms, wearing T-shirts that said “Save the Organic Label.” At rallies this month in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Burlington, Vermont, protesters held signs with slogans such as “keep the soil in organic.”

“This notion that organic farmers are stuck in the past, or that they’re a bunch of Luddites hanging on to the way things used to be — that’s a misnomer,” said Cameron Harsh, the senior manager for organic and animal policy at the Center for Food Safety. “Soilless systems are just incompatible with the organic program and its regulations.”

But in a series of close 8-7 votes on Wednesday, the NOSB appeared to disagree. Instead, it sided with hydroponic growers, many of whom have spent several years and several thousands of dollars acquiring their organic certification.

Organic sales topped $47 billion in 2016, according to the Organic Trade Association, representing five percent of all U.S. food sales. That growth has not been driven by idyllic family farms, either. Increasingly, the organic market is dominated by industrial brands that look little different from their conventional counterparts.

For the full text of the USC Chapter on Organic Certification, go to http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title7/chapter94&edition=prelim

With some organic purists claiming they plan to form a new standard to include only soil-based farming practices, it is a certainty this controversy will continue.

Animal Welfare Rules To Be Repealed

Under the Obama Administration, as a group of farmers and advocates pushed for many years to see new rules, called the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP), put in place. The rules were finalized on January 18, 2017, but that didn’t stop the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from delaying them multiple times in the wake of President Trump’s post-inauguration regulatory freeze. Then, in a Friday announcement, the agency published its decision to withdraw the OLPP all together.

The Organic Trade Association(OTA) immediately denounced the USDA’s decision on Friday, December 15, pointing to the immense support from all sectors of the organic industry and the public at large. “By the department’s own count, out of the more than 47,000 comments the department received in the last public comment period … 99 percent were in favor of the rule becoming effective without further delay on Nov. 14,” said OTA in a statement. In September, the OTA sued the USDA, alleging that the agency unlawfully delayed the OLPP and failed to protect the integrity of the organic label.

“Today’s announcement is a subversion of comprehensive federal animal welfare standards approved by the USDA,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, “and it will prove crippling to family farmers all across the nation who treat their animals well and want to be able to market their products under an authentic ‘organic’ label.” We are appalled by this action, and plan to mount a major effort to reverse a decision that will contribute to hollowing out rural communities and that will allow factory farmers to trick the public and sell their products at a premium under a deficient organic label.”

However, not all are in opposition to the withdrawal of this rule.  Senator Pat Roberts, Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry issued a statement on December 17, which stated in part, “With USDA’s wise decision to withdraw this rule, organic livestock and poultry producers can rest assured that they will not be forced out of business by another costly and burdensome regulation,” said Roberts.

“Having fought this unwanted and unneeded regulation from the beginning, I’m pleased to see the Trump administration listening to my concerns, along with the concerns of organic livestock and poultry producers across the country. Together, we warned USDA of the unintended consequences of this rule, but our concerns fell on deaf ears in the previous administration. The rule was finalized two days before leaving office, despite its serious potential to force organic livestock and poultry producers out of business, increase prices paid by consumers for organic food, and increase animal disease and mortality. By withdrawing this rule, the Trump administration is again demonstrating its commitment to de-regulate rural America.”

Today USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will published a proposed rule in the Federal Register requesting public comments on its intent to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Proposed (OLPP) final rule published in January 2017, according to a notice on the agency’s website.

“USDA believes the OLPP final rule exceeded USDA’s statutory authority beyond the intent of the Organic Foods Production Act,” the statement said.

 

There is a public comment period for input on this proposed rule withdrawal.  For information on how to submit comments, go to https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/12/18/2017-27316/national-organic-program-organic-livestock-and-poultry-practices-withdrawal

The Status and Statistics of Rural Broadband

It has been reported for years that high speed broadband is lacking in the rural areas of our country compared to urban and suburban areas.  People living in rural America do not have to be told they need broadband – they are well aware of the disadvantages they face living with lack of high speed internet. Children’s Children suffer by lack of access to high speed internet for homework or research projects compared to metropolitan students.  Rural business owners are at a significant economic disadvantage without high speed access to the internet for online ordering, credit card processing, online banking, and business marketing. Doctors and Lawyers need the access too.

Betsy Huber, President and Master of the National Grange, who was recently appointed to the FCC Broadband Advisory committee, stated that the Grange has been a longtime advocate for rural broadband and that she now has this awesome responsibility to be a voice for rural America and its people, businesses and farmers. One of the things Ms. Huber will advocate for is that farmers need internet services not only in the home and the barn, but on the tractor in the field.

Let’s look at some rural versus urban statistics.  In rural America only 55% of residents and businesses have access to broadband with speeds of 25 MBPS or greater, while in the cities, 94% availability is the norm.  The 55% access percentage does increase to 64% in rural areas with 10MBPS speed availability; however, the FCC does not accept speeds that slow as being classified as ‘high speed internet.’

Competition improves choice. Only 19% of rural areas have a choice of broadband providers, while 60% of the rest of the country has choice. Put another way, 36% of rural Americans lack any access to broadband, even at slower speeds, but in the urban and suburban areas only 4% lack access. That is 23 million people in rural areas with no access to high speed internet service there is a bigger problem. Where there is access to broadband, 100,000,000 residents do not subscribe, even though it is available to them.  For some the reason is cost, for some they do not see the need for the service, and, for many older citizens, they do not even own a computer.

So why is broadband coverage so low in rural America? Broadband service is provided, with very few exceptions, by the private sector. For those providers, such as Comcast or Fair Point, where to provide high speed internet access is a business decision. The return on investment of stringing fiber optic cable for limited connectivity in remote areas is a poor business choice. It costs roughly the same amount to string a cable in the city and potentially attach one thousand subscribers as it does to string cable in rural locations and potentially attract six subscribers. On average, it costs$40,000 a mile to string cable.

It should be noted that today’s farmers rely more and more on access to high speed broadband. They need to be competitive and efficient and have access to data needed to operate their business. In some agricultural areas, farmers are starting collectives to string their own lines from the provider’s connection point.  It is not uncommon for people on the outskirts of rural communities with no access to broadband to go to the local library   to login to the internet at just to read their email.

What is the solution? The Federal Communications Commission, in its latest budget, is providing $2 Billion over 10 years for subsidies to providers to encourage them to string lines in rural areas and make connections.   In addition to these subsidies, there are currently several bills before Congress dealing with broadband accessibility, as outlined By Jessica Mulholland and Eyragon Eidam in the August 6 edition of ‘Government Technology:

‘The bipartisan Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) bill, was introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. The legislation aims to drive down wireless costs by opening commercially licensed and unlicensed spectrum space, while hopefully bettering broadband access in rural areas.   There is also

In a similar spirit, the U.S. House’s Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act of 2017 would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a national standard for “reasonably comparable” broadband services in rural and urban areas. Since the bill’s introduction in mid-June, however, it has not progressed in the House.

Also in mid-June, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., introduced legislation that would provide tax incentives for companies willing to build out rural broadband services. The so-called Gigabit Opportunity Act would effectively allow companies to front load the expensing of investments in rural networks within applicable zones. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai lauded the bill, which has not progressed since its June 16introduction.

And in March, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., introduced legislation that would streamline broadband permitting in existing highway rights-of-way for broadband infrastructure projects. Called the Highway Rights-of-Way Permitting Efficiency Act of 2017, the bill seeks to avoid duplicative federal permitting and regulations and other issues that cause project delays and cost-overruns.

And states in the CSG-ERC region are taking measures to expand broadband in their states as well.

On June 14, the Maine House passed Legislative Document 1399, which would create the nonprofit Maine Broadband Initiative. The goal of the non-profit would be to spur high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved parts of the state. The broadband initiative would replace the ConnectME Authority with the new Maine Broadband Initiative. On June 15, the Senate placed the bill on the Special Appropriations Table, which is tasked with determining how to fund the bill.

In late May, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bipartisan Senate Bill 717, which establishes the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service as a means of studying and outlining recommendations to further the technology in underserved, rural areas.

The goal of New Hampshire House Bill 238 is to establish a committee to study broadband access, one of the first steps in working toward bringing access to rural residents. The bill was introduced in New Hampshire in December 2016, but it didn’t pass the House until February 2017 and then passed the Senate on April 27.  New Hampshire currently has SB 170 that would set up a public / private partnership to leverage investment. That bill has passed the appropriate Senate Committee and will go to the full Senate in January. It is expected to pass the Senate, but will have more resistance in the NH House

New York’s Assembly Bill 4869 aims to create a tax credit for providers willing to deploy broadband services to rural or underserved homes and businesses. The bill, aptly named the Credit for Rural Broadband Act of 2017, was both introduced and referred to the Senate Governmental Operations Committee Feb. 3, and has not showed any signs of moving forward’

Legislatures, both federal and state, will need to be willing to subsidize rural broad banding in order for providers to move forward with build out.

The CSG-ERC Rural & Agricultural Affairs Committee staff will continue to monitor the rural broadband situation at the state level and give you updates as they occur.

Ag Organizations Send Letter to Governors on NAFTA

Last week, 22 agricultural associations submitted a letter to the governors of each state expressing concern about the potential of a withdrawal from the important trade agreement.  Among these organizations are ones very familiar to our region:  Agrimark, American Farm Bureau Federation, Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT), IDFA, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and others.

‘Notice of withdrawal from NAFTA would result in substantial harm to the U.S. economy generally and U.S. food and agriculture producers, in particular’, the letter said.  It went on to state:  ‘Notice of withdrawal from NAFTA would result in substantial harm to the U.S. economy generally and U.S. food and agriculture producers, in particular. While it has been asserted that negotiations could be completed and a new agreement approved subsequent to issuance of notice of withdrawal, but prior to actual withdrawal, that observation underestimates the business complexity, integrated supply chains and contracting periods involved. Such a notice of withdrawal would fuel additional uncertainty among our North American trading partners, creating a sense of urgency to explore non-U.S.-origin sources of supply. It also would trigger a substantial, immediate response in commodity markets, as market-specific focus would turn to a scheduled return to trade-prohibitive tariff rates. Contracts would be renegotiated or cancelled, sales would be delayed or lost altogether, able foreign competitors would rush to seize our export markets, and litigation would abound even before withdrawal took effect.’

According to the authors of the letter, some possible ramifications of withdrawal are ‘the negative impact on the United States would far outweigh any benefits from higher U.S. tariffs, including a net loss of 256,000 U.S. jobs, a net loss of at least 50,000 jobs in the U.S. food and agriculture industry, and a drop in GDP of $13 billion from the farm sector alone. NAFTA withdrawal would also disrupt critical industry supply chains, close markets, eliminate jobs, and increase prices for the basic needs of American consumers.’

The letter urges the Governors to let President Trump know ‘that you support a modernized NAFTA that maintains and enhances food and agricultural trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and recognition that withdrawal from the accord would have adverse impacts.’

Whether the President has the unilateral right or authority to withdraw from an existing international trade agreement, without the approval of Congress, is an issue that may have to be settled in court.  This letter to our nation’s Governors is an attempt to prevent that potential legal quagmire from happening.

We will keep you informed of news on the NAFTA negotiations as they become public.

Ballot Measures in Maine, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania

CSG’s The Current State reported this week on recent ballot measures in Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Maine’s Question 2, a voter initiative, proposed the expansion of Medicaid, seeking to expand health care coverage to adults under the age of 65 who are at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. About 70 percent of voters in Maine voted “yes.” New York voters turned down a proposal to hold a constitutional convention in 2019. Read the full article here.

Puerto Rico’s Agriculture Sector devastated by Hurricane Maria

If you have been following the utter devastation from hurricanes this year in both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, you have heard little about agriculture on the islands and how it was impacted. Most of the media attention has gone to the human tragedy, and rightfully so. There are a lot of reports about the electric infrastructure being destroyed, communications being wiped out, a lack of food and water, roads closed, bridges out, and hospitals in chaos. But we hear little about the fate of Puerto Rico’s agriculture.

Here is a look at Puerto Rico’s agriculture industry data prior to Hurricane Maria from a 2014 Report by the USDA accumulated from the last “Census of Agriculture”.

• There were 13,159 farms in Puerto Rico as of the last Census of Agriculture, consisting of 584,988 acres or an average of 44.5 acres per farm. Fifty one hundred farms are less than 10 acres, while 385 farms are more than 260 acres. The second largest category of farm acres is 50 to 99 acres with 940 farms.
• Of the 584,000 acres of farmland, 67,000 are pasture land, 3,000 acres are woodlots and 433,000 acres are crop producing land, 63,000 of which are irrigated. Much of the best agriculture land of Puerto Rico is relatively dry, in the rain shadow of the central mountains.
• Puerto Rican Farmers hire about 30,000 workers each year with about half of those being full time and the other half either part time or seasonal. Losing your agriculture sector puts 30,000 Americans out of work as well as the 13,000 farmers themselves.
• The total agriculture output value of production of these 13,159 farms is $547 million, in 2012, with $271 million of that from crop sales. The largest crops in Puerto Rico are sugar, Plantains, followed by fruits and coffee.
• Of note, $50 million in plantains was lost to the hurricane. When ERC was in Fajardo Puerto Rico in 2013, we learned that it takes 18 months to grow plantains from planting to harvest, which will severely impact the future income potential of the plantain farmers.
• There are 257,000 cows on the Island, of which 100,000 are dairy cows, as well as 48,000 hogs and 10.9 million chickens.
• The ornamental sectors of agriculture output is worth $37.5 million, including Christmas poinsettias.

What was Puerto Rico’s agricultural industry is largely gone for the next year or longer, in many cases, due to the hurricane’s devastation. Dairy brings with it special problems. Feed crops were devastated, barns destroyed, milking parlors flooded. There is no electric for milking machines or refrigeration for the raw milk in storage.  Electricity or not, the cows still need to be milked twice a day.

Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Agriculture, Carlos Flores Ortega, estimates that 80% of the entire crop in the agriculture sector was wiped out, based on value. According to Secretary, this loss amounts to $780 million, with plantains, bananas and coffee the hardest hit. Poultry barns were blown away, killing the chickens in the process.

The U.S. Virgin Island’s agricultural sector is much smaller than Puerto Rico’s, but important to them all the same. At this time the Virgin Island figures are sketchy, but all one has to do is look at the before and after satellite pictures to see the lush green Virgin Islands go from green to brown to know that the island has lost crops.

The US House has already approved $12 billion in immediate aid to the Islands, and the House Natural Resources Committee will be holding hearings on the progress being made in both territories on both November 7 and 14. Our CSG/ERC eyes and ears in Washington, Fran Boyd, will attend both of these hearings.

What is CSG / ERC doing to help? We have been working with Annabel Guillen, the Federal Affairs Advisor to the Senate of Puerto Rico, and have had a conference call with a staffer to Puerto Rico’s non-voting Representative to Congress, Jennifer Gonzalez Colon, to ask what the ERC can do to help both long- and short-term. The most immediate need they had was not supplies, but office space in Washington. As a result, Wendell Hannaford and ERC have located office space where Ms. Guillen can station several volunteers to operate phone banks to field calls and offers for assistance. That office space, funding for which is provided by CSG-ERC, is in the Hall of States, and comes with unlimited WIFI.

We are awaiting requests for more assistance. Debbie Paige, ERC’s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and Policy Analyst and Coordinator for the Council on Communities of Color, is working with members in the Virgin Islands to identify items needed, which we will ship to legislators to be used in their district offices, most of which were destroyed. As we learn what can be done to help the Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Islands agricultural community, we will make that known.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Renegotiation

On July 17, the Office of the United States Trade Representative released their report entitled ‘Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation’.  One of the promises made by Candidate Trump was a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  In a tweet from October 2016, Trump said, ‘I will renegotiate NAFTA. If I can’t make a great deal, we’re going to tear it up. We’re going to get this economy running again.’  However, in April 2017, President Trump stepped back from his plan to issue an Executive Order removing the US from NAFTA in favor of renegotiation of the trade deal.  This Summary of Objectives is a result of that decision.

Agriculture plays a large part in the Summary, with cross border agricultural trade being a large part of our import/export activity with Mexico and Canada.

To quote the Summary, ‘The new NAFTA must continue to break down barriers to American exports. This includes the elimination of unfair subsidies, market-distorting practices by state owned enterprises, and burdensome restrictions of intellectual property’.  Among these barriers mentioned were tariffs, price discrimination, regulatory incompatibility, lack of communication and technological capability, verification of country of origin of agricultural products.

Among other areas for renegotiation are: Environmental, Regulatory, Transparency, Labor, Anti-Corruption, and Trade Protection.

In response to the release of the Summary, Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, issued the following statement in support of the report, saying “We are pleased to see efforts to address unjustified measures that unfairly limit access to markets for U.S. goods, such as price undercutting, included in the administration’s negotiating objectives. We believe these goals will allow the administration to address Canada’s new milk pricing policy, referred to as Class 7, which has allowed Canadian companies to sell their products below world market prices.

“In addition, we’re pleased to see an objective to expand competitive market opportunities for U.S. agricultural goods by reducing or eliminating tariffs. Canadian tariffs on some U.S. dairy products are nearly 300 percent.”

On the other hand, in testimony before a subcommittee of the Trade Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee on the objectives of the NAFTA renegotiations, Stan Ryan, CEO of Darigold, a large farmer-owned cooperative in Washington State, urged caution.

‘NAFTA has been a driving force behind remarkable growth in dairy exports, and is the reason the United States’ share of Mexico’s dairy imports today is 73 percent.’  He noted that U.S. dairy sales to Mexico have risen to $1.2 billion last year from just $124 million in 1995.  He worried that the preferential tariffs enjoyed by the U.S. could be undermined if the benefits of NAFTA are watered down in renegotiating the dairy provisions of the agreement.

However, Ryan criticized the new Canadian dairy Class 7 system.  “It essentially matches the lowest price in the world for milk protein finished products, despite Canada having one of the world’s highest raw milk farm gate  prices, all operating under a state-controlled and state-protected system.  Common sense to economics would tell you that if it looks and feels like subsidized dumping, it probably is.”

The U.S. Trade Representative announced that seven rounds of NAFTA negotiations will begin August 16.  We will keep you informed of all developments in these talks as they progress.

 

Meet NH State Representative Steve Darrow

Let us introduce Representative Steve Darrow, Vice Chair of the New Hampshire House Committee on Environment and Agriculture, and a first time attendee to the ERC Annual Meeting. Steve is a member of the CSG-ERC Agriculture and Rural Affairs policy committee.

Rep. Darrow has been a resident of NH for forty-five years.  Rep. Darrow has a degree from Franconia College in Literature.  He has been involved in local government, being the current chair of the Pemi-Valley Republican Committee and former selectman from Grafton, NH for twelve years.   In addition, Steve was a member of the school board for his school district, and has been active with the area trail maintenance volunteer group.

Steve was treasurer as well as member of the Board of Directors of the Mascoma Valley Health Initiative. Steve explained that the area in which he lives is very rural, and, because of that, the access to healthcare is limited. The Mascoma Valley Health Initiative is a non-profit organization with the mission of making health care more accessible for local residents, and helps with everything from providing transportation to lobbying for a new local health center.

Representative Darrow is retired from UPS after 28 years, during which time he spent nine years in Sales, nine years in Operations, and finally nine years in Industrial Engineering where he helped UPS become more technologically advanced.

We asked Steve what piece of legislation made him most proud, and he mentioned three things. HR7, which was a resolution that resolved to limit campaign contributions from any entity that will not be ineligible to vote in the next election. Second, he was very proud to vote for relief for NH dairy farmers, which provided $2.1 million to help offset the devastating impacts of 2016’s drought.  And lastly, although not a bill, but Darrow is very proud to sometimes buck the system and vote against the wishes of his party. He prides himself in being able to decide for himself what is best for his constituents.

When asked what he likes most and least about being a representative, Steve responded that he really likes being a part of such an historical body and process. He likes being able to speak up for what he supports or opposes. Steve further commented that he loves the committee work. He further noted that the NH House and Senate has a lot of great people with whom he is proud to serve.  However, he went on to say that he what he disliked the most was the obstructionists in both parties, something he sees as becoming more and more prevalent over the years.

We asked what attracted Steve to the Agriculture Committee, and he said he has always had an interest in agriculture and gardening, and likes being able to promote local agriculture and to support small farms. Since the NH House Committee on Environment and Agriculture also handles solid waste, it further attracted him, since he is a licensed transfer station operator and worries about our disappearing landfill capacity.

We asked Steve what he expected from his first ERC meeting. He said he is looking forward to networking and being able to meet with other legislators, and learning from them what their states’ issues are and what they are doing about them.

Rep. Steve Darrow is just one of the members of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Policy Committee for ERC coming to the Annual Meeting August 13 through 16 in Uncasville, Connecticut this summer.  Join them by registering at www.csg-erc.org.

Meet the Legislator – MA Senator Anne Gobi

Senator Anne Gobi lives in Spencer, Massachusetts, the town where she was born and raised. After graduating from Worcester State College, Anne studied law at Massachusetts School of Law at night while teaching high school during the day.  After passing the bar, she went into private practice.

A member of the Spencer Democratic Town Committee since 1998, Anne was asked to run for an open seat in 2001.  We asked her if she was anxious about the campaign.  ‘I had never run for anything before this.  The representative in the district before me was a Republican.  Raising money was the hardest part.  I had a primary in my first election, and I had to raise over $50,000 for the campaign, which was hard.  But I won.’  She was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives for 14 years, serving on multiple committees including the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, of which she was co-Chair.

We asked her why she chose go serve on the Agriculture Committee.  ‘In Massachusetts, we have a wish list for committee assignments.  When I was first elected, I was assigned to committees.  But since I grew up active in 4-H and live in a rural district, I wanted to serve on the Agriculture Committee, which I did.  It took me a while to be named chair, but I was, and eventually served two terms as Chair.’  Anne was elected as State Senator in 2014, and she is currently in her second term as Chair of the Senate Ag Committee.

We asked if she likes being a Senator.  ‘I like it, even though there is a lot of work.  Over 300 bills come to my committee during the biennium, and I make sure that the committee works hard on each one.

When we asked what the biggest issue was facing agriculture in Massachusetts today, Anne did not hesitate.  ‘Farm viability.  Massachusetts has 7,000 farms, but most of them are very small.  Last year’s drought affected them badly.  We have to find a way to make farming sustainable for our farmers.’  Another problem with agriculture in the state is the number of outdated laws, particularly the agricultural preservation statutes. The way they were written when people went into them thirty years ago is not the way things are now.  It is a challenge updating laws so that farms can have viability and diversify on their farm so they can survive.  Young farmers need the help most.

Ann said that Massachusetts is losing an alarming number of dairy farms. ‘We’re down to about 160, roughly.  There were thousands at one time.  Within the last ten years we have lost another 25’

She is optimistic with some new trends in agriculture.  ‘Farm breweries are cropping up.  There is a Barre dairy farm that is milking cows and selling beer as well.  One woman who works there said ‘15 cents for a pint of milk, $7 for a pint of beer.’

According to Anne, the biggest non-agriculture issue that the Massachusetts Senate faced this year is the fact that revenues are not coming in at the pace they should be.  Uncertainty on the federal level and the effect that will have is a huge worry.  Health care is almost 51% of the budget.  The state is facing a $870 million deficit.  Currently the state has no tax on online sales.  There should be a way to capture this revenue that has been lost due to the closing of brick and mortar stores in favor of online sales.  Also Massachusetts is home to a large number of financial institutions and service industries that pay no taxes.

Senator Gobi said the thing she likes most about being in the legislature is that it is never boring.  There is a different issue every day.  ‘You never know when the phone rings or when you open an email what is going to be there.’  She likes to keep active, and the legislature helps to provide change and challenge.  What she dislikes most is her long commute to the statehouse, which takes a lot of valuable time out of day.

e says she has enjoyed working and being invited to CSG-ERC meetings and seminars.  She especially likes that she is able to go online and get information on what is happening in other states and in Washington.  This resource is tremendously helpful to her and her staff.

Come and meet Senator Anne Gobi and other dedicated legislators interested in Agricultural and Rural Affairs policy this summer at the 2017 CSG-ERC Annual Meeting in Uncasville, Connecticut (‘Mohegan Sun’) from August 13 through 16.